New Schools’ Chief a 'Perfect Fit'

Education – The Bedrock of Economic Development
New Schools’ Chief a ‘Perfect Fit’
By Steve Urbon
Standard-Times Senior Correspondent

Dr. Portia S. Bonner, New Bedford Superintendent of Schools

NEW BEDFORD — A new beginning of “historic proportions” starts this evening as Portia S. Bonner is formally introduced to the city as its new superintendent of schools.
After nine months of searching and a last-minute switch to a breakfast meeting to beat the Lowell schools to the punch, Dr. Bonner was chosen Monday in a 7-0 vote, with no dissent but with heaps of praise from each of the committee members in turn.
That late-morning vote — timed to beat Lowell’s School Committee, which met Monday evening to choose its new superintendent — was followed by an executive session in which Dr. Bonner accepted the offer via telephone. With her next call, Dr. Bonner notified Lowell, where she also was a finalist, that she was withdrawing her application.
In her New Bedford job, Dr. Bonner will be paid $160,000 a year, said Mayor Scott W. Lang, a figure slightly higher than what retiring Superintendent Michael Longo is paid. Contract details need to be worked out, but the parties have settled on a three-year deal with raises of 2 percent in years two and three, Mayor Lang said.
Dr. Bonner officially starts her job July 1, but this evening she will be formally presented to the public at a special meeting of the School Committee at 7 at the Keith Middle School.
She told reporters she is “very, very excited” about moving to Massachusetts from Connecticut and “starting a new chapter in my life.”
School Committee members, prompted by Mayor Lang as chairman, took turns praising all three finalists, the others being Chris Augusta Scott of Norfolk and Alberto Rodriguez of Miami-Dade. Committee members John Fletcher and Jill Ussach had visited Miami and reported amazing results there under Dr. Rodriguez, but Dr. Fletcher later signaled his support for Dr. Bonner along with members Marlene Pollock and Thomas Clark, while the others gave no sign of their preference.
But when member Joaquim “Jack” Nobrega was invited by Mayor Lang to make a motion for nomination, he nominated Dr. Bonner and kicked off a round of unequivocal praise for her intellect, analytical ability, people skills, scientific background and potential as an educational leader of national importance.
Citing her devotion to her profession, Mayor Lang said, “She put her life on hold to serve the community.”
Dr. Fletcher said he watched the committee’s interview tapes three times and observed that not only were Dr. Bonner’s answers exemplary, but “as a person, to me, she is first-class.”
“She will be a national figure one day,” he said.
The fact that her experience is in urban districts in Hamden and Waterbury, Conn., figured strongly into her selection.
Mrs. Ussach called her a “perfect fit,” partly because Waterbury in particular has a large Cape Verdean-American student population. Dr. Fletcher observed that one could mistake the students of Hamden for the students of New Bedford, the similarities are so striking.
Mayor Lang said that as the interview process went along, Dr. Bonner was the clear choice, “hands down.”
Lowell’s School Committee voted Monday night to offer their superintendent’s job to Dr. Augusta Scott, who also was a finalist in New Bedford, The Lowell Sun’s Web site reported.
Contact Steve Urbon at surbon@s-t.com
March 25, 2008

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